In 2002, an Asian American boy by the name Sho Timothy Yono, with an estimated IQ of 200, graduated from Loyola University, Chicago, at the age of twelve. Six years after he received his Ph.D. in Molecular Biology, successfully becoming history’s youngest MD.
In 2006, six years old Ainan Celeste Cawley, a Singaporean boy who was reported to have spoken his first word at less than a month old, stunned the world when he delivered a remarkable lecture about acids and alkaloids to the utter amazement of everyone in attendance.
In June 2013, a boy named Adam Kirby became the youngest member of the British Mensa at the age of two after scoring 141 in an IQ test, conveniently meaning that at that age, he was smarter than Barack Obama and David Cameron put together. Prior to his test, Adam had astonished the world when he began to read his first book at the age of 10 months!
Shocking as these revelations may sound, they are true. Sho, Ainan and Adam are flesh and blood like many other kids from around the world who possess abilities that can best be described as strange and out-of-this-world.
Throughout history, in every continents of the world, stories have emerged of children who are so different from their peers that, while some may be quick to denounce them as evil, others have argued that they may be gods who have practically come down to live among men.
For example, the story is well documented of the case in the 6th Century BC, of Mnesarchus, the father of Mathematician and Philosopher Pythagoras, who while travelling home from work one day, came upon an abandoned child. The bizarre child it was said, had survived for as long as he had been there where he was found, solely on the dew from a nearby tree. Taking this child in, Pythagoras’ father named this child Astraios, which is Greek for ‘Star Child’. It is said that this child was raised with Pythagoras and his siblings and that he was later given to Pythagoras as his servant. It is believed today by many that, this strange child may have been responsible for most of Pythagoras’ works in the field of Mathematics and Philosophy.
Whether or not this is just another good fable, I cannot tell. But the point is clear that this story and many like it, serves to buttress two truths; that there are children among us who display behaviours that is different from how we expect children to behave, and that such children deserve our care rather than cruelty.
Though I am not denying the fact that there are children who are really evil, my quarrel is with the cruelty being visited on every unusual child in Nigeria today. Recently, Nigerians woke up to a rude shock and were repulsed about the story that came to light of one Francis Taiwo, who was said to be the pastor-in-charge of Key of Joy Celestial Church of Christ, Ajibawo area in Ogun State.
Now on the run, this man was said to have chained his son Korede in a room for days, a thing he has been doing since January, with little food, in an attempt to cast the evil spirit from him. True, the little boy was fond of stealing and running away from home, but was this reason enough to believe the child possessed? All things being equal, if a boy is in the habit of trying to steal food from a vendor in school, what does that tell of his parent?
Repulsed as we may feel about this sort of sordid story, stories like this will not go away until something drastic is done to remedy the situation. And the point must be made that this is not the first time a thing like this will be happening. As a matter of fact, what Korede went through at the hands of his father is nothing compared to what many other kids, countless Koredes have been going through since 2008 in Akwa Ibom State and elsewhere in the hands of their parents, at the instigation of religious charlatans like Helen Ukpabio of Liberty Ministries and many like her.
Only God knows how many faceless and voiceless Koredes scattered across the length and breadths of this nation are in chains. Eccentric kids have been around since the dawn of history. Even Jesus Christ of the Christian faith himself at some point was considered an eccentric (remember the story of the temple discussion at age 12?). Being strange should not be license to visit barbarism on any child. While the like of Ukpabio and Pastor Taiwo will denounce such kids as witches and wizards, the like of Gorgio A Tsoukalos, a Greek American Ancient Alien Hunter would define such children as gifted kids. ‘Star Kids’. I believe these are children we should make efforts to understand rather than destroy
In Akwa Ibom State for example, one of the kids in the care of the Child Right and Rehabilitation Network (CRARN) included a teenage girl whose mother tried to saw off the top of her skull after a pastor condemned her and repeated exorcisms costing a total of 100,000 naira didn’t cure her of ‘her witchcraft’.
Another one, Mary, 15, was doused in some chemical comparable to caustic soda by her mother.
12-year-old Rachel was chained up by her pastor, starved and beaten with sticks repeatedly for over a week. Her uncle had paid the pastor the sum of 250,000 naira for the exorcism.
Sweet-tempered Jerry, a 9 year old, with battered knees, was beaten by his pastor, starved, and made to eat cement and then set alight by his father as his pastor’s wife cheered on. His pink skin stands a strong testament today to the horrors he went through at the hands of those who should care for him.
The most depressing of all is the story of Nwaeka, 16, who was mentally retarded as at the time her story came to light. I watched a video of her, seated all by herself in the mud, her eyes rolling, scratching at her stick-thin arms. The wound on her head where a nine inches nail was driven looked to be healing well but was still dripping pause as at when I watched the video. Her family pastor had denounced her as a witch. Her family did that to her.
While we are at it trying to kill our ‘strange’ kids, other nations are trying to harness the gifts of theirs. As far back as 1982, the Chinese government launched a nationwide search for kids with extra ordinary abilities. The purpose was to develop and harness their gifts. Today in Nigeria, some of the traits the Chinese government looked out for in those kids then are the same traits the like of Helen Ukpabio and her co-travellers are condemning kids for. A child that is sickly, bed wets, stubborn, quiet and reserved, disabled, too intelligent, according to Helen Ukpabio’s book, is a witch. If the lives of these kids are so easily disregarded, this begs the questions; what is wrong with us as a society that we have turned on our kids, the most vulnerable in society?
If the timing of Jesus Christ’s ministry were to be in our day, if the like of Pastor Taiwo was one of his disciples, what message would he have them? Let us make no mistake about it, no matter how far the government chases him, there are still countless so called religious men like Pastor Taiwo. These men and women disregard the teachings of Jesus every day.
Jesus Christ showed by example that children were to be viewed as vulnerable in the society. Apart from preaching against cruelty to children, Jesus always found time for youngster. He is even quoted as telling his disciples that unless they became like little children they would not enter the kingdom of heaven. He warned his followers not to despise children or to cause them to stumble. Children were valuable and were to be treated with love and care. In a sharp departure from this admonition, what we see today is torture and maiming of kids under the pretext of exorcism.
Even the early church, in adherence to Jesus’ teaching, recognized the child as a person. For them, both children and adults were equal in the kingdom of God. There are overflowing examples in the Bible of how children were looked after. This is the same Bible the like of Taiwo carry, preach from and site as giving directives to their shameful crimes against children.
An adequate response to this issue of child abuse should, as a matter of urgency, be proffered. This response should be one that addresses the attitude of the general public towards children. More National Child Protection laws, ones which give forte to agencies and institutions that exists to look into the issue of child abuse should be made and strengthened.
These laws should exist solely with the mandate to prevent and respond to cases of abuse, exploitation and violence against children. Stigmatized kids should be given access to legal frameworks and to justice throughout the nation.
Advocacy and interventions groups like CRARN and the Paulash Community Development Initiative (PCDI) should be supported and encouraged not only to be able to cater for kids, but also reinvigorated to promote social change by raising awareness about the evil of child abuse among families and communities.
The government should also come down heavy on these religious charlatans, and as a matter of fact, there should be a very serious regulation of church activities and registration and the activities of the so called exorcist and deliverance healers in this country. It is not everyone that claims himself a founder that applies to the CAC that should be given the license to operate a church. This is because many of these men and women are actually mental and moral dwarfs who are intellectually and spirituality bankrupt.
Who says we cannot make efforts to understand our unusual kids like the Chinese government did in 1982, benefit from and provide for them? Some of them are actually geniuses who simply need an enabling environment to thrive.
Finally, the point must be made that beliefs that some kids can be possessed of the devil among our people cannot go away easily. However, government can begin the process of healing our victimized kids and changing the people’s perception of them. It is time we quit soaking our hands in blood by eating up our own very future, torturing maybe the finest of our kids? Our own ‘Star Kids’. Every child is a Korede and deserves care…